Mombasa Port Stakeholder Workshop – An Apology and Explanation

Mombasa Port Stakeholder Workshop – An Apology and Explanation

I am going a little off script this week in an attempt to extricate myself from a shit pit I jumped into a few weeks ago with a “President Trump” type tweet concerning the Mombasa Port Stakeholders Workshop to Combat Wildlife Crime.

Between October 23rd and 25th,  the above workshop took place at the Voyager Beach Resort, Mombasa, Kenya.  It was hosted by the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife of the Republic of Kenya in partnership with USAID, TRAFFIC (international NGO monitoring wildlife trade), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and WWF-Kenya among others.

Based on reports, there were at least 76 attendees from 31 organizations including representatives from the Kenya Government, private sector entities, enforcement agencies, non-governmental organizations and intergovernmental organizations.

While I have enjoyed attending professional workshops in my previous career (I still have an attendee gift insulated mug from a 2005 Death Investigators conference), I now have a more jaded view of such, particularly relating to effectiveness and cost.  In any event, in “a fit of pique” my inner voice leapt out via the keyboard and I condescendingly tweeted on #MombasaPort4Wildlife that the workshop was a bit of a “swan”, adding that Lagos, Nigeria, would have been a better location.  The comment was regrettable and I apologize for it.  I have since deleted the comment.

Workshop Attendee gift mug – 2005

I know it is not going to make a difference to my employment opportunities
with any of the hosting organizations, but derogatory comments serve no purpose. We all have a part to play in countering wildlife crime, big or small, and need to work together.  That was clearly a message that came out of
the conference – more and better collaboration.

This workshop was well covered by the media, I am sure one of the prime reasons being a press conference given by the Cabinet Secretary of Tourism and Wildlife, Najib Balala.  In addition, the websites of TRAFFIC and UNDP also featured reports.  In the coverage I noted that within the reported content of CS Balala’s speech and also within the TRAFFIC/UNDP reports were some errors, some ambiguities, and some subject matter that needed clarification.  May I take the liberty:

For CS Balala’s speech writers:
1. Mombasa still is being considered to be a transit port for ivory from Uganda, DRC, Tanzania and Mozambique.

The last seizure in Mombasa (1098 kg shipment actually cleared Mombasa port and was re-called on the high seas) was in December 2016.  While it is naive to believe that no ivory has transited Mombasa since then, other African ports clearly now fall into the “primary transit” category.  Lagos, Nigeria, has figured in 15 major ivory/pangolin seizures since the last reported Mombasa seizure.

2. About 10 tonnes of elephants’ tusks are smuggled through Mombasa port annually
Since 2010, and according to publicly available data, approximately 55,133 kg (55.1 tonnes) of seized ivory has a proven Mombasa connection.  Again, the last Mombasa related ivory seizure was almost 3 years ago.

Mombasa involved seizures 2010 – 2019

3.    The government seized 17 containers laden with ivory and 34 stocked with rosewood in the recent past.

Bearing in mind that the definition of ‘recent’ is subjective, the 34 containers of rosewood were from one seizure that occurred in 2014.  Since 2010, the number of containers of seized ivory in Mombasa is more like 10, and that is including the one repatriated from Singapore in 2013 and the ‘Feisal’ seizure found in a warehouse.


4.    Available government data shows that the illegal ivory trade through the port of Mombasa was 39 percent in 2012, but has since gone down to almost 17 per cent last year.

Does anyone even know what this means?  Are they saying that 17% of globally seized ivory in 2018 went through Mombasa?  Known seizure statistics do not support this statement. According to Kenya Wildlife Service only 40 elephants were poached in 2018 and both Uganda and Tanzania have similarly low numbers. This also speaks to the validity of the “10 tonnes of ivory transiting Mombasa annually” comment.


For TRAFFIC’s editors:
1. The port of Mombasa is the largest seaport in Africa. 
 While it may seem a trivial mistake in detail to address, TRAFFIC is considered to be the pre-eminent organization monitoring the wildlife trade and it needs to have its facts correct. As an FYI, apparently the largest port in the world is now in Morocco
2.  One of the most publicized seizures at Mombasa port involved two containers declared as tea leaves
This particular shipment originated from Mombasa port but the actual seizure was made in Singapore. There is an ongoing prosecution in the Mombasa courts related to this seizure that is entering its 5th year.

Technology, Equipment and Capacity Building
CS Balala made two other statements for which comment is required;

 “I urge the port stakeholders, including the United Nations, to support the Kenyan government to develop technology, do capacity building trainings as well as invest in equipment that can be able to detect illegal ivory passing through our ports,” and  “despite the government’s heavy investment in its seaports, corruption still thrives.”

CS Balala admitted that corruption still thrives in Mombasa Port and this is true.  In a March 2013 letter from DCI Kilindini (Directorate Criminal Investigations) to DCI HQ Nairobi, investigators identified that there was “smuggling into the Port using fake customs entries and subsequent irregular loading into vessels in collusion with employees of the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) and Kenya Ports Authority( KPA). The evidence bears this out.

In nine Mombasa based investigations into ivory seizures, port officials have been either charged or found complicit in every single one. In 2016, 25 KRA and KPA staff were arrested for fraud and container diversion related charges, one of them being in the head of IT. In May 2019, over 70 KRA employees from across the country were arrested for offences that included money laundering, abuse of office and neglect of duty. Those arrests included  raids on the office of KRA Mombasa.

 The question to be asked here is; with thriving corruption, is there any point pouring money into equipment, technology and capacity building if the corruption isn’t even a little bit under control?

Recognising the urgent need for action against illegal wildlife trade….

 I am sure there were a host of good reasons for this workshop and it being held at the Voyager Beach Resort, Mombasa.  I am sure that there was excellent content and that the participants left the workshop motivated to do more.  Collectively, participants decreed that there was a need for enhancement in inter-agency and international collaboration, policy enforcement, prosecution capacity and intelligence exchange.  This is all true but nothing that has not been heard before countless times.

The first line from the TRAFFIC press release states: “Recognizing the urgent need for action against illegal wildlife trade…..” but does this workshop and similar capacity building exercises actually do that?  And do the organizations that pour the thousands of taxpayers or donors dollars into these workshops actually evaluate their specific effectiveness in reducing wildlife crime numbers? 

Perhaps that isn’t even the point.

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